Barsa-Kelmes: the Land of no Return
There has always been a mystery attached to the island of Barsa-Kelmes; the name itself, translated from the Kazakh, means ‘the land of no return’. Once a lonely island in the Aral Sea, the receding waters have left it as a peninsula, a natural landmark in the Aralsky district of the Kyzylorda region of Kazakhstan.
People tell many stories about this place. One is of a man called Abdrazak. In the middle of the last century his relatives left him on Barsa-Kelmes, and while he was there he saw strange apparitions, in particular an unidentified flying object with a luminous glass eye that landed on the island. Abdrazak is then supposed to have predicted that humans would travel into space long before it was ever considered possible. Locals also tell stories of people who went to the island and then disappeared, or returned dozens of years later convinced that they had only been absent for a year or two.
Rumours and articles in the tabloid press described flying, pre-historic pangolins (scaly anteaters) living on Barsa-Kelmes Island, about anomalies with time and frequent sightings of UFOs. The famous Russian science fiction writer, Sergey Lukyanenko, who was born in Kazakhstan, finally admitted that these rumours were no more than fiction. In one interview he claimed that the Soviet newspapers had printed these old wives’ tales only to increase their circulation.
This famous former island is now a natural reserve, where many animals included in the Red Book have been found. The koulan lived here, a rare type of wild horse on the verge of extinction. Local lore warns that “if you kill a koulan you will lose the ability to tell the difference between good and evil”. It has always been believed that this animal is impossible to domesticate. In 1953, the decision was taken to restore the Kazakhstani population of this animal and koulans were brought to the island of Barsa-Kelmes from Turkmenistan. The project was very successful and the numbers of koulan began to increase. However, by the end of the 20th century, the ecological disaster of the Aral Sea began to affect the area, and so part of the herd was resettled to Turkmenistan and to the state national park of Altyn-Emel near Almaty, where the herd is now around 3,000 strong.